Settling into failure

A few days have passed since we officially found out that our first IVF cycle was unsuccessful. My anger at the situation has tapered, although still rears its head in flashes. I’ve since settled into disappointment and a general feeling of being lost. Much of my last three-plus years has left me in a similar place, so, unfortunately its rather familiar. It’s hard to make sense of that sometimes — that this is my new normal — but I’ve begrudgingly accepted it.

There’s not much I can do right now but make myself reasonably comfortable in this lost space. We’ll meet with the doctor in two weeks to go over key learnings from my failed first cycle and then make a plan to move on. Financially I need to figure out what that will look like and how soon we can feasibly start round two with an FET.

I’ve run out of things to say when people who knew about the IVF ask how I am. I don’t have a new way to say, well, I’m kinda used to this. Or actually, sometimes my whole body hurts because I want a baby. Sometimes I’m really just going through the motions and maybe I always will be.

Even though I feel this way now, I’m cautiously optimistic to try again. Infertility is a complex web of emotions that demand to be felt. It’s lonely and scary. All-consuming. But I’ll keep doing it over and over again for the foreseeable future. I don’t have a choice, right?

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Image from The Refined Investor

The things I’ve lost

The last several months have been more difficult than I anticipated. In many ways, I feel like I’m losing my ongoing struggle with depression. The continuous push and pull is stressful and exhausting — both emotionally and physically. The physical symptoms of depression — the ones you see commercials about — suck all of my energy and I feel happiest when I am being still. Even then, that happiness is short-lived. I fidget constantly.

I don’t want to, but I consistently think about what I thought 2015 would look like when we started the year with good news. A baby would be born in December. My birthday, along with many members of my family, is that same month. It would be joyous. Early in my pregnancy my husband commented that December would be the best month ever — the arrival of our child and the new Star Wars movie?! Pure perfection for him. It was wonderful for me to see him look forward to something given that he’s often in much physical pain because of chronic back problems.

Now, December is a month I don’t want to start. I’d like to fast-forward it. Knowing that I can’t sometimes fills me with dread. If I have to turn the page in the calendar, I’d like nothing more than to just stay in bed with my dog, hiding under the covers. No birthday. No Christmas. Just leave me be.

Therapy, thankfully, has been tremendously helpful in reminding me that I did lose something I wanted desperately and it’s okay to be sad about that. There’s no timeline for that grief. The pain demands to be felt and I need to make peace with that. Life has thrown a lot at me and my loved one (in forms other than my infertility) and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed at times.

Overwhelmed has been my natural state over the last few months. When one more thing happens I ask how much more I can take. Jobs, cancers, money… it has been one thing on top of another. I desperately need something for the win column. My husband hates when I talk like this — from such a place of negativity. What he has a difficult time seeing, of course, is that many days when I search, I find literally nothing else. I am self-aware enough to know that it’s the depression taking over, but it can be impossible to explain to sometime who isn’t there mentally just how powerful it is. It’s a monster.

Next month I’ll have a second surgery for two unexplained “spots” in my uterus. I’m scared, of course, about what those spots could be. But the small part of me that is still capable of being hopeful is, because, perhaps, what’s found in me could explain my otherwise unexplained infertility. At the tail end of an awful year, a diagnosis can point me in the right direction. The 10 percent left of me that can be positive wants to believe this surgery can bring about some clarity.

For now, I’ll do my best to refocus. I’m waiting on some non-fertility-related news this week that, if positive, could nudge the dominos to fall.

One step forward, two steps back

It’s been just more than seven weeks since I miscarried and they’ve crawled by at a snail’s pace. I didn’t put any expectations on myself to feel better, physically or mentally, in any finite amount of time.

Emotionally some days are better than others. That’s often how grief works.

Physically has been a series of ant hills and mountains. Since I did not miscarry naturally, I assumed the recovery period would be pretty limited. My doctor, who also performed the surgery, told me to expect some heavy bleeding and cramping for a few days, and mentioned to be aware of fevers or other unexpected changes. After a little more than a week, I was feeling more like my pre-pregnancy self. I was tested to ensure that my hormone levels were dropping appropriately, and it was confirmed that they were. After another follow-up, my doctor cleared my husband and I to try again following my next period. She expected that I would see that unwanted, old friend again within about four weeks, perhaps six.

I’m not sure why I thought my body would adhere to the normal timeline — considering that my infertility is largely unexplained — but as I passed weeks four, five, and six without a period I wondered if things were okay. I was feeling fine physically, so what was going on? I consulted Dr. Google (which, really, why do I ever do that?) and fell down a Babycenter rabbit hole. More than two-thirds of the women posting in the thread about post-miscarriage menstruation said they’d actually discovered that they’d almost immediately gotten pregnant again. Reading this, of course, gave me some hope. I mean, this was a lot of women who said this happened.

I even took a pregnancy test on my husband’s birthday thinking wellll… Negative.

Every time I’m tempted to ask myself why not me?, I just stop. Because I’m not those other women. I really never am. None of this has gone my way. I’m more like the one woman who posted that she was 13 weeks post and her hormone levels were still high and no red in sight. Ugh.

This week, though, I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.

Asking why not me? always ends in tears and frustration. This hasn’t been easy. In fact, it sucks. Today I’m feeling a little tired of pretending that it doesn’t. There’s not a handbook for it. I’m writing my own.

Treating my whole self

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. Because of this, and the help I’ve asked for in getting through some of the most difficult times, I’ve been in therapy pretty consistently since I was 22 years old. I strongly believe that this, paired with a cocktail of antidepressants, have allowed me to be a (mostly) normal, functional human. They’ve also kept me from slipping farther into the black hole that depression can crate. In a lot of ways, a combination of therapy and medication has kept me alive.

Like with any subject, there are people on the other side of the fence that believe that depression and anxiety can be controlled without therapy or medication; some may even say that “it is all in your head.” I’m not here to change their minds.

One of the most challenging things about infertility is managing the flood of emotions that come with the highs and lows of the experience. I’m no stranger to recognizing my own triggers for depression and anxiety, so I’ve tried to stay on top of coping with my emotions. That is, of course, when I can even process them. Occasionally it feels like everything I’m feeling — particularly since my miscarriage — gets stuffed into a cheese cloth and then wrung out when I least expect it. At the height of some of my worst months of previous depression, the feeling was very much the same. Some of what is in the cheese cloth remains, but much is coming out in a steady stream of everything inside. It’s hard to plan for what often comes out unexpectedly.

This weekend The New York Times Magazine ran a piece that hit close to home — “The Secret Sadness of Pregnancy with Depression.” It’s a tremendous, eye-opening read that focuses on antenatal depression (depression while pregnant) and how serious of a condition this can be, particularly if left untreated.

The article comments:

“Though antenatal and postpartum depression are linked, antenatal depression has remained underground. Much of the stigma around maternal depression — antenatal and postpartum — seems to focus on women who fail at joy, often suggesting that such women are heartless. How can anyone not be swept up by the momentousness of producing a child who will give her life purpose? The myth of the pregnant mother who is high on hormones has had considerable staying power.”

The emotional needs of the soon-to-be mother are too often ignored and pushed aside. Even the healthiest of pregnancies is still an insane journey of physical and emotional stress on a woman.

This piece reminded me why I recently decided to find a new therapist and spend that hour a week examining everything that I’m feeling now, and have felt in these two-plus years of trying to conceive a baby. Returning to treatment means taking the bull by the horns and owning that what I’m going through is enormously stressful and emotional as hell. I’ve never been one to take for granted what it can mean to have a clear head, and I’m certainly not ashamed to say I need some help getting there.